Policy and Politics: Bill 'fails to protect rights of the mentally ill'

Mental health charities have welcomed last week's Parliamentary joint committee report on the revised draft Mental Health Bill.

The committee, which was appointed by the Government in September to look at the proposed reform to the 50-year-old Mental Health Act, concluded that the draft Bill would still fail to protect the human rights of mentally ill patients.

It said that the Bill's prime goal should be to improve patients' welfare and to reduce the stigma of mental disorder. Instead the report warned that the draft makes public safety issues its priority and that it needs major amendements before being presented to Parliament.

"For years the voice of the mental health sector has been saying that the proposals are out of step with what is needed," said Gil Hitchon, chief executive of the Mental After Care Association.

This is another blow for the Government, which has already changed the 2002 draft following widespread criticism from professionals, including the Mental Health Alliance, a group of 50 voluntary organisations.

The first draft, which would have enabled 'dangerous' patients to be detained even if they had committed no crime, was softened up in September to introduce basic safety nets such as mental health tribunals.

Paul Cavadino, chief executive of crime reduction charity Nacro, said: "The current draft Bill is driven by an exclusive public safety agenda rather than a desire to meet the individual needs of service users. This perpetuates the myth that mentally disordered people are dangerous."

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